By: Randy Dotinga

‘Single Moms’ Column Pulled From Web Site

SAN DIEGO – A nationally syndicated columnist blasts a
handful of celebrity moms who are single “by choice,” including a
woman who ranks among the most famous widows in America. Then he
doesn’t show up at work for a week.

Was it just a coincidence? Or an involuntary absence? That’s the
big question at The San Diego Union-Tribune, where
columnist Joseph Perkins’ hiatus is raising plenty of eyebrows.

Perkins, one of the country’s leading black conservative voices,
got in hot water for his April 20 column that blasted celebrity
single moms who appeared on a recent US Weekly cover,
including “Today Show” co-host Katie Couric and actresses Nicole
Kidman, Calista Flockhart, Camryn Manheim, and Jodie Foster.

By having children out of wedlock, the celebs are sending a
“harmful message” to young women “who figure that, if such a
‘lifestyle choice’ is OK for Katie and Calista and Jodie and
Camryn, it must be okay for them as well,” wrote Perkins, a
former Wall Street Journal editorial writer and assistant
to former Vice President Dan Quayle. He also suggested that the
solution to the “welfare mom” problem is marriage, not education
or jobs.

Unfortunately for Perkins, his column had a major error and
plenty of readers noticed. Couric, known as “American’s
sweetheart,” didn’t choose to be single. Her husband died of
colon cancer in 1998, and she has devoted herself to increasing
awareness of the disease.

Perkins, who has appeared on several national news shows,
corrected the online version of his column the morning it was
published, a source said. Later that day, Union-Tribune
Editor Karin Winner ordered the column be stricken from the site
and published a correction about Couric’s status in the print
edition the next day.

“We had an embarrassing mistake by a writer and an editor who
didn’t catch it,” said Bill Osborne, senior editor for opinion.
“We blew it.”

Several letter writers complained about the column. One wondered
if Perkins “is the only person in the world” who’s unaware that
Couric is a widow.

Reached at his home, Perkins refused to comment on his job status
until he returned to the office on April 30. “I never conduct any
business from home, and I never take any work calls from home,”
he said. Osborne declined to comment on Perkins’ job status,
saying it is a “personnel matter.”

The column was briefly reposted on the Union-Tribune Web
site on April 23, but then was quickly taken down. Other recent
twice-weekly columns by Perkins remain online.

The Union-Tribune has removed published stories from the
Web site before. “There have been instances when we were
concerned about possible libel,” said an online department
employee. “If you can better serve people by changing things, you
might as well.”

The Newspaper Enterprise Association sends a weekly Perkins
column to about 600 newspapers nationwide. A spokeswoman declined
to say how many papers run the column, but in 1999 the syndicate
estimated the number at 250. That placed him above columnist
William Raspberry and Clarence Page and equal to Molly Ivins. The
spokeswoman said there would be no interruption in the
distribution of Perkins’ column.

Randy Dotinga is a free-lancer based in San Diego.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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